Tag Archives: New Orleans

How Bellwether Transformed Agencies Supporting Youth in Utah, California, and Louisiana, Part 1

Quote from Atila in El Dorado County, CA saying "I just always felt behind/I never felt smart" and ""as far as learning went, there wasn't a whole lot of that. i never was able to stay in one spot for one full school year, until 7th grade. really didn't even learn to read until about 6th, 7th grade."

Atila in El Dorado County, CA (from a series of Bellwether visuals)

Young people served by multiple agencies — like schools, mental health providers, child welfare agencies, and community nonprofits — experience a fragmented network of care. In fact, as Bellwether has pointed out again and again, fragmentation across care agencies results in uncoordinated, poorly communicated, and insufficient supports for some of our nation’s most vulnerable young people. And this means they are not getting the education they need and deserve.

We’ve been working on these issues, both as researchers and consultants on the ground, for more than two years. We’ve developed a unique approach to supporting local leaders as they streamline the educational supports for high-need students and break down the silos that exist between care agencies at the state and local levels.

Our approach places the education system at the center of all services, acting as the through-line for students. We do this because schools are the places where every kid shows up — education can be the one constant in the midst of chaos. Continue reading

Time to Change the “Outsider” Narrative in Education

The Outsiders

via http://www.angelfire.com/hi/SEHTheOutsiders/

Like many of you, I’ve been reading a lot about the radical changes in New Orleans’ education system since  Hurricane Katrina made landfall ten years ago. A subplot of nearly all of the stories is the “outsider” narrative. The narrative consists of two parts: 1) an influx of mostly young, white, and educated outsiders are largely responsible for the rapid academic progress that the new all-charter system produced and 2) the mostly-black native New Orleanian educators who weren’t thrust aside in a massive firing are routinely deprived of the recognition they deserve.  

There’s little to dispute on the facts underpinning this narrative.  In general, the number of young, white, educated professionals increased in New Orleans from 2000 to 2010, and the profile of the teaching workforce changed dramatically following the storm from a stable corps of experienced black locals to transient young white transplants. Additionally, thousands of Orleans Parish teachers were controversially dismissed following Katrina as a result of a scattered student population and transition to a decentralized system.

But, as Andy Rotherham points out, the reality is much more complex than a story of naive white interlopers descending upon a city to save schools from recalcitrant locals. There’s nuance in broad middle ground where most school reform actually takes place, where people debate productively, work collaboratively, and tackle new challenges that don’t have solutions.  Even so, this kind of rhetoric is pervasive in places like Newark and Memphis where dramatic interventions are being put in place. When the reality is portrayed as a simplistic outsider narrative, the “cities don’t need outsiders” response it often elicits is counterproductive to genuine efforts to ameliorate poverty and increase education opportunities for urban students.

Millions of American students are trapped in underperforming schools and the outsider narrative does nothing to help them. It’s time to change it.

Chief among the reasons to change the outsiders narrative is that young and educated professionals have been flocking to city centers nationwide for the last ten years, a trend that will likely continue. Depending on how we respond, these professionals can either be a force for good or contribute to gentrification, concentrated poverty, and inequitable economic benefits.

I wrote about this in a three part series and still believe that smart and proactive policies can take advantage of swelling numbers of young educated professionals in ways that protect local cultures, history, and jobs. The outside narrative does nothing toward this end.

Let’s move beyond the damaging dichotomy of “locals vs. outsiders”, acknowledge the demographic forces impacting our cities, and figure out ways that any willing person can contribute to improving schools.

What Bellwether’s Been Writing About Hurricane Katrina

Updated 9/2/2015, 2:50 p.m.: Members of our team have been reflecting on what Hurricane Katrina meant for students, teachers, and community members:

How are New Orleans’ Littlest Learners Faring?

A decade after Hurricane Katrina led to a fundamental restructuring of New Orleans’ public school system, numerous articles and reports have documented and debated the impact of the changes on the city’s K-12 students. But how are younger children in New Orleans faring?

There’s a lot less evidence on this question–in large part due to the fragmented nature of early childhood systems, both in Louisiana and nationally. Because two of the clients I work with at Bellwether are involved in early childhood work in New Orleans, I’ve had opportunities to visit and learn about preschool programs in the city over the past two years, but I still feel perplexed by the early childhood landscape there. That said, three issues related to early childhood in New Orleans deserve particular attention:  Continue reading

NOLA, Hurricane Katrina, and Teacher Pensions (Part II)

Yesterday I wrote about how Hurricane Katrina illustrated a big risk to teachers–that they won’t stick around long enough to qualify for sufficient retirement savings from their state pension plan. I want to add two points to that:

1. Because pensions are so back-loaded, teachers only really benefit after they stay for a VERY long time, often 25 or 30 years. After the Orleans Parish School Board dismissed 7,500 employees in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they significantly altered their teaching workforce. Today, almost no New Orleans teachers have 20 or more years of experience, meaning very few teachers are truly benefiting from the state pension system. The graph below comes from a new brief out of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans. The red line represents the percentage of New Orleans teachers with more than 20 years of experience. It plummeted after Hurricane Katrina, and today only about 7-8 percent of New Orleans teachers have 20 or more years of experience.

NOLA Teacher Exp Levels_circle


Other than this small fraction of workers, New Orleans teachers are enrolled in a retirement system that won’t provide them sufficient retirement income.

2. Louisiana teachers are part of the 40 percent of American public school teachers who are NOT enrolled in Social Security. Not only are they losing out from their pension system, they also can’t count on Social Security to provide them income protection in their old age as nearly every other American worker does. We think they should be.